Local Soccer: Da Silva heads Hapoel Tel Aviv to the top
Elsewhere, Ironi coach Ben-Shimon marks return to club with 2-0 defeat against Sakhnin, Betar keeps championship hopes alive with 2-0 win at Mac Petah Tikva.
By JONNY HADI
Once again, after a decent though not dazzling performance, and once again, possibly for just a short period, Hapoel Tel Aviv went top on Saturday afternoon after a 1-0 win away at Hapoel Petah Tikva. The win puts pressure on Maccabi Haifa, which can regain top spot with a win at Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday.
In other action Saturday, new Ironi Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben-Shimon marked his return to the club with a 2-0 defeat at home to Bnei Sakhnin, while Betar Jerusalem kept its faint championship hopes alive with a 2-0 win at Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Elsewhere, Maccabi Netanya's dismal form continued with a goalless bore-draw away at Ashdod, and Bnei Yehuda boosted its UEFA Europa League ambitions with a 1-0 home victory against Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan.
Hapoel Petah Tikva started well in Saturday afternoon's game against Hapoel Tel Aviv, with Shimon Abuhatzera and Junior Viza making things tick for the home side.
Vincent Enyeama saved well from M'peti Nimba in the opening minutes, before Viza blazed over an Abuhatzera center. Eyal Shen then headed Viza's cross against the bar.
Hapoel Tel Aviv improved in the second period and midway through the half, after Douglas da Silva had rattled the woodwork, came the decisive passage of play.
First, Enyeama made one of the saves of the season, brilliantly clawing away Viza's close-range header, and minutes later, Gili Vermut's cross at the other end was gleefully headed into the corner by Tel Aviv defender da Silva.
Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Guttman conceded that his team wasn't at its best, but he was pleased to have picked up the points in relatively difficult circumstances.
"We didn't play great soccer today, although we controlled the second half," he said. "Our ability changes according to the circumstances - after all, a 3 p.m. kick-off here isn't the same as a 9 p.m. kick-off at Bloomfield Stadium - but we also need to know how to return with the points from games like these."
Maccabi Petah Tikva 0, Betar Jerusalem 2
"We're still in contention and we're not giving up," said Betar coach Reuven Atar on Saturday night after an away win at Maccabi Petah Tikva kept alive the reigning champion's hopes of retaining the title - hopes that were severely dented by last week's 2-2 draw against Bnei Yehuda.
Idan Tal gave Betar an early lead, slamming in a ninth-minute penalty after Siramana Dembele had handled inside the box.
On the stroke of half time, Petah Tikva's Lior Asulin missed a great opportunity to level when he hit the post after Betar's Eliran Danin had gifted him the ball in front of goal.
Atar's men doubled their lead 14 minutes from time. Petah Tikva's Ismael Amer gave the ball away to Toto Tamuz and the Betar substitute raced clear before playing a wonderfully weighted pass to Barak Itzhaki, who fired the ball into the corner from just inside the penalty area.
Tal nearly made it three for the visitors, but his 30-meter belter was tipped onto the crossbar by Petah Tikva stopper Ohad Cohen.
The hosts came close to a consolation goal in the closing minutes, but Asulin volleyed the ball against the bar after showing some neat chest control.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona 0, Bnei Sakhnin 2
Kiryat Shmona remains rooted to the bottom after losing Saturday's six-pointer at home to its northern rival.
Substitute Yehiel Tzagai made the difference for the visitors. Thirteen minutes from time, his whipped cross was turned into the top corner by Yeye Paty, and in the dying moments of the match, his curling shot clipped off Ironi 'keeper Danny Amos and into the net.
Ben-Shimon faces an uphill task to keep Ironi up, with five out of his team's last six games being against the top five.
Bnei Yehuda 1, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 0
In stark contrast to last season's fight to avoid relegation, with six games of this campaign remaining, Bnei Yehuda is still in the hunt for a European place.
The winner in Saturday's home match against Hakoach came seven minutes from the end when Eliran Atar slotted home a penalty after Benny Hadad had handled Kfir Edri's cross.
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